Thursday, February 5, 2009

magical mystery manatee tour

   It was 7:30 am and I was awake. This in itself is a miracle, but nothing like the miracle that was awaiting me.  My friends Kevin, Dave, Mindy, and I set out for the Crystal River in Homosassa (yes, there were quite a few good natured jokes made about that name...), Florida. 

  We got to the pier and boarded the boat--complete with the wonderful Captain Jan--that we had chartered. Now, it was just as sunny as one would imagine a typical Homosassa day to be, but it was cold. Not Detroit cold, thank goodness, but still 40 degrees or so. 

  Everything was beautiful, though--cold or not. The water was blue, the trees tropical with spanish moss hanging like spider webs, and a clear, wide blue sky encompassing it all.  We left the dock and just looked at our surrounding, already realizing that nothing about this day was going to make us regret the early wake up call. 

   We put on the wetsuits that Captain Jan gave us, they were already wet...We tried to see that as a kind way of assimilating us to the water...
  And then, we became super heroes!
  But the real superhero quickly showed up...
   It turned out the unprecedentedly cold Florida day worked in our favor. Because of the weather, the manatees literally flocked to the springs which were found in their state-appointed sanctuary. Captain Jan had never seen as many manatees out and about as she did yesterday with us. 

  Finally, it was time to make the plunge. The last time I had snorkeled was in...North Carolina?...don't totally remember where it was, actually; it was some vacation involving water with my family. And we snorkeled. But the point is, I hadn't done it for a while. 

  We climb down the ladder one at a time--Dave, Kevin, me, then Mindy. I have a few moments on the ladder where I feel the cold enveloping me and wonder if I can really do this. I decide that I didn't come out this far to just look at the manatees from a distance, so I jump all the way in. Then I dip my face in the water, snorkel keeping my air supply regular, and start to panic.

  Just a little.

  See, I am not a fish. I know, I know--big surprise. But it just isn't natural to breathe underwater. And at first it scared me. A lot. And I was doing this erratic breathing, sure that each one was my last and the water would start filling my lungs with the next breath. But that snorkel really does work--I kept breathing air and eventually started to relax and look like this:
  And with all the sporadic breathing and my heart beating quick and being so aware of the water and absolutely sure of myself not being in my element, I completely forgot why I was even there. Until, this guy came up beside me and startled me.
   See, manatees get up to 3500 pounds. That. Is. Huge. If fact, their closest relative in terms of mammals is the elephant--simply because they both never stop growing. And yes, those of you familiar with the fantastic comedy of Jim Gaffigan may have heard of them called the sea cow. This is because they are herbivores and mostly eat grass. They actually sort of sidle up to lawns and munch the grass, acting like a natural lawn mower. 

   I wish Drew and I could get one for our lawn.

  Anyway, since they are so huge, they have no natural predator; so they have never learned fear. They are curious about everything, and coupled with their very poor eye sight, they like to get up really close to you.  

  I had such a fun time with a baby. He swam up to me, getting really close, and then I started to stroke right behind his flipper (which is what Captain Jan had informed us that they really enjoy). This baby manatee started flipping over, exposing his white belly, and rolling like a puppy. It made me want to laugh, but Captain Jan had told us that noises do startle them, so I kept quiet. Plus I had that snorkel in my mouth, keeping me alive and quiet at the same time. I guess you could call it a win-win for both me and the manatees.  This baby would follow me around for a little bit, and kept wanting to relate to me, which I was only too happy to do.

  The manatee skin is really rough and thick and feels unlike anything I have ever felt before. Also, some of them had algae growing on their backs which schools of fish would munch on and make me want to laugh. But I didn't. Win-win situation, remember? 

  At one point, we went through this rocky tributary that led to this beautiful lagoon that looked like it could have been a scene from Lost. I felt like we were the only people who had ever been there before, and we sort of pretended this was true. It was also at this time that all three of my friends admitted to having peed in their wetsuits anywhere from 2-4 times. In fact, one of them even informed us in a matter-of-fact manner, I'm peeing right now.

  I hadn't known that this was a normal thing to do. In fact I still don't know if it is, but that gave me all the confidence I needed to just let it go. The five seconds of warmth was totally worth it. I'm just saying.

  We finally went back to our boat, and decided to just sit out on the edge of it, feet in the water, watching those gentle and kind manatees do their thing.  At first I was so cold, my body shivering so violently, that when I tried to hold my hot chocolate I spilled it everywhere. I simply could not hold my arm still. In an effort not to drench the boat in hot chocolate, I decided to save it for later.  

  But our time in the sun, on the boat, surrounded by kind and magical creatures, was truly something I will always carry with me. We all loved it. If you ever get a chance to swim with the manatees--please do. You will not be disappointed.  

  Oh, and once we docked we decided to use our vouchers that came with the charter for a nearby restaurant, Crackers (yep, there were jokes about that one, too). And I expanded my horizons by eating alligator. And I realize this is so cliche, but I have to agree--it does taste like chicken, like tough chicken. 

  We bought two underwater cameras which we used with gusto. I honestly wanted to take a picture of just about every little thing I saw--including one small and pretty fish that Dave kept me from capturing on film, saying, You really want me to take a picture of that fish that I am positive we can find with a simple google images search? 

  Oh, guess not. So, we mostly stuck to manatee shots--especially us with the manatees.

   It was truly a perfect day.



kathiek said...

Oh, Jess, how wonderful! I would wake up early to swim with the manatees! I wonder if you can wear glasses under those goggles?

I suppose all of you peeing in the Crystal River (laughed out loud reading that, I can tell you!) can't be too much of a problem...I am sure all those manatees do the same (and more)...another really good reason to keep your mouth closed while swimming with them!! But it does make me wonder about the wetsuits being wet already...hmmm...;-) I'm just sayin'

Jessica Latshaw said...

lol, Kathie-that hadn't crossed my mind till now! thanks for solving the mystery;-)

jason said...

That's so awesome! Did you see any gators in the river? There are gators in crystal river!!!

Jessica Latshaw said...

I didn't--though Captain Jan had seen one before...I would have been terrified if I had seen one!!!

However, Dave has a relative who hunts gators and there is a slight possibility that he will take us out with him!

Nina said...

Wow! That sounds like a perfect morning. How great that the cold weather worked to your advantage. So glad you posted these pics!

And I love Jim Gaffagan...